Viennese designer, Helmut Lang was born in 1956. Trained in finance, Lang’s career in fashion began when he failed to find the perfect jacket and tee shirt, forcing him to design his own. Opening his first boutique in 1986, Lang was invited to stage his first catwalk show later that year in Paris. Returning to Vienna, Lang resisted attempts from industry insiders to relocate him to one of the world’s fashion capitals. A decade later the time felt right and he relocated to New York. In 2005 Lang shocked the fashion world by announcing his retirement from fashion. At the time Prada Group held ownership of the brand, which they sold on to a Japanese company, Link Theory a year later. In 2007 the Helmut Lang label was relaunched with new designers but sadly it has struggled to maintain the brand’s place in fashion that was known for it’s innovative, minimalist and deconstructed designs. In 2001 my pair of Helmut Lang jeans with their signature unmarked leather patch were one of my wardrobe staples. In terms of cut, denim weight and wash, Helmut Lang produced, in my opinion, the best jeans. Before his retirement from fashion Helmut Lang added three fragrances that bared his name, two colognes, one for men and one for women. The other was Cuiron. After it’s discontinuation it has gained cult status amongst collectors and fans of leather fragrances. Like everything Lang designed, Cuiron offers a different perspective of leather in perfume. At the time leather was dated. Perfumes such as Chanel’s Antaeus and Guerlain’s Derby had run their course. Lang’s audience was young and forward thinking. Their interest lay in the future, not in history and stories from the past. From the sleek rectangular bottle in amber glass and the simple white label that looks more like a laboratory bottle, not haute perfume, Lang stripped away the stereotypes of leather. Like his fashion aesthetic, he proposed a minimal deconstructed leather, that is transparent and light, the antithesis of existing leathers at the time.
Like a Lars Von Trier movie, in which you have to be in the mood to see his work, Cuiron is a little bit the same way. Helmut Lang’s approach to perfume, whilst many consider genius, can be an anticlimax for those expecting Steven Spielberg. I first discovered Cuiron in a small Melbourne perfumery called Paint and Powder in 2004. I remember spraying it on a blotter and thinking it was amazing. After a walk I returned to try it again and I was left underwhelmed. Needless to say I didn’t purchase a bottle but I did so later, following the departure of Helmut Lang and the death of Cuiron. I occasionally look for old stock online and notice the inflating prices as scarcity increases. It’s cult status heightens as more and more fans lament for its loss and more and more fans who didn’t get a chance to try it expect it to be the perfumed Holy Grail. For me it is not the Holy Grail, but an excellent example of turn of the century perfume, a unique leather and for this reason I find it is an item well worth collecting. In terms of structure, to my moderately amateur nose, it is relatively simple. It contains some ghosts of perfumes past namely some aromatic fougere notes, all heavily diluted to maintain the fragrance’s modernity. Instead of a rich palette of natural woods and resins, Cuiron is a lightweight in the base note department. I suspect a number of woody molecules such as Iso E Super and Vertofix Coeur are used to impart a woody character without affecting the overall transparency of the fragrance. Castoreum or birch tar is not responsible for Cuiron’s leather note. Instead this is created with quinolenes, a group of aroma chemicals that have a nutty earthy character and are often associated with leather notes in perfume. My favourite part of Cuiron is the start. Cuiron is described as having a plum accord in its top notes. This subtle accord is reminiscent of Japanese incense, which fades brilliantly into a chemical haze of leather and wood. Fans of naturals over synthetics are best to explore other leathers such as Chanel’s Cuir de Russie or Parfum d’Empire’s Cuir Ottoman. Fan’s of brands such as Comme des Garcons or Escentric Molecules will enjoy Helmut Lang’s point of view.
It’s hard to believe Cuiron is now ten years old. Although some of the aromatic components feel a little Azzaro Pour Homme, it was otherwise ahead of its time and could easily compete with a 2012 release. It is a great casual fragrance for the evening, subtle enough to be worn to a friend’s dinner party without fumigating their living room and perfect to wear if the party continues on to a bar or club. It is modern and masculine without beating its chest. Cuiron was launched around the time straight guys started hanging out with their girlfriends, talking about their feelings and wearing facial moisturizer but at the same time were expected to know how to change a car tyre. This sentiment basically sums up the target audience.
Cuiron is a hard fragrance to suggest based on other perfume preferences. I am of the opinion that if you are a fan of the current leathers in circulation, Cuiron will not be ‘leather’ enough for you and will lead to disappointment. If you are a fan of synthetic woods such as Escentic 1 and even the ambery wood, Escentric 2, you may like this leathery take on a woody theme. But expect to pay around $200 for one of the remaining bottles that occasionally appear on Ebay.
Perfumer: Francoise Caron (Givaudan – Quest)
Bottle designer: Marc Atlan
Release date: 2002
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry Woods